Supplemental Security Income:

SSA Efforts Fall Short in Correcting Erroneous Payments to Prisoners

HEHS-96-152: Published: Aug 30, 1996. Publicly Released: Aug 30, 1996.


Cynthia Maher Fagnoni
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Office of Public Affairs
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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO determined whether the Social Security Administration (SSA) is making erroneous supplemental security income (SSI) payments to prisoners in county and local jail systems.

GAO found that: (1) a total of $5 million has been erroneously paid to prisoners in local and county jail systems; (2) these erroneous payments are the result of SSA field offices' inability to obtain prisoner information on a regular basis, SSI recipients' failure to report their incarceration, and SSA inability to verify recipients' eligibility for SSI; (3) the Commissioner of Social Security has sent draft legislation to Congress that would authorize payment to each correctional facility reporting newly admitted SSI beneficiaries; (4) erroneous payments to individual prisoners range from $100 to more than $17,000; (5) 136 prisoners have received more than $5,000 in erroneous SSI payments and 19 prisoners have received more than $10,000 in erroneous SSI payments; and (6) SSA is requesting its field offices to obtain prisoner information from both county and local jail systems and emphasizing the importance of monitoring field offices' compliance with this procedure.

Status Legend:

More Info
  • Review Pending-GAO has not yet assessed implementation status.
  • Open-Actions to satisfy the intent of the recommendation have not been taken or are being planned, or actions that partially satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-implemented-Actions that satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-not implemented-While the intent of the recommendation has not been satisfied, time or circumstances have rendered the recommendation invalid.
    • Review Pending
    • Open
    • Closed - implemented
    • Closed - not implemented

    Recommendation for Executive Action

    Recommendation: In order to identify SSI recipients who have been erroneously paid in prior years, the Commissioner of Social Security should direct SSA field offices to obtain information from county and local jails on former prisoners. SSA should then process this information to: (1) determine if it made erroneous payments to any of these former prisoners; (2) establish overpayments for the ones it paid; and (3) attempt to recover all erroneous payments.

    Agency Affected: Social Security Administration

    Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: SSA has terminated all work on these recommendations. According to SSA officials, SSA would prefer to concentrate on preventing overpayments, rather than expending resources to pursue past overpayments. However, SSA believed it has identified some prior overpayments because, as part of the Incentive Payment Agreements, prisons and jails provide SSA with a census of all inmates in their facilities.

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